Architect Donald Billinkoff—who has worked on high-profile projects such as the Joyce Theater in New York and renovations to the Los Angeles Central Library and Los Angeles County Museum of Art—and his wife have moved multiple times, embarking on major remodels with each new home.
When the Billinkoffs started looking for a home in Litchfield County, Connecticut, an area with which Billinkoff was familiar through previous clients, they sought a classic midcentury that could be updated and customized. They wanted the trappings of the era: single-level living, expanses of glass, high ceilings—something that would be well-suited as a weekend getaway to enjoy with their children and grandchildren.
After a long search, their broker came across a listing in New Milford, though it didn’t quite fit the bill. The home had been built in 1968: "A decade too late to qualify as midcentury, and a period considered less than stellar in American residential architecture," says Billinkoff.
It was, according to the broker, "a peculiar house with some very unattractive features," adding that, "it might be an insurmountable design problem, but it has great views."
"As one architect friend described it, the long, high, narrow aluminum windows inserted in the beige brick facade lent the house the appearance of a rest station in a public park," says Billinkoff. "While the layout had some evidence of rationality, the rooms felt enclosed with little connection to each other or to the landscape outside."
There were fluorescent fixtures that were partly hidden behind wood valances, and the floors and walls in the entry hall were covered in travertine. The worst offense, according to the architect, was the mansard-shaped fireplace which had been tiled with embossed, chocolate-brown clay tiles and set on a beige brick base with a multicolored terrazzo hearth.
Yet despite all of the questionable design choices, a closer inspection revealed to Billinkoff that there had been higher aspirations. He says, "Deep overhangs sheltered windows from summer sun that were positioned for cross ventilation. There was an impressive beamed ceiling and large expanses of glass with views to the Kent Hills in the distance."
Ultimately, the positive qualities of the home outweighed the negatives, so Billinkoff and his wife purchased it and embarked upon an eight-month renovation.
Billinkoff learned that the original architect had also designed institutional buildings in Connecticut—meaning, the home was remarkably solid. So solid, in fact, that "some of the most difficult work was the demolition," he recalls. "For example, one of the bathrooms is built with concrete block walls and poured concrete ceiling. Maybe it was supposed to also serve as a bomb shelter—after all, it was the mid-’60s."
The aforementioned fireplace had also been built to last. The original mason had embedded the tile in concrete that formed the mansard. When it did not reasonably yield to demolition, Billinkoff decided to just hide the mansard behind a screen of concrete block, blackened steel, and sheetrock.
Billinkoff expanded the kitchen, adding custom shelving to display the couple’s teacup collection, though he ensured that they could be removed and replaced with conventional kitchen cabinets. "Even while designing it for our use," he says, "I also anticipated that someday, that may not work for the next guy."
10 Paradise Lane is currently listed for $1,450,000 by Ira Goldspiel and Steve Pener of William Pitt Sotheby's International Real Estate.
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